The former Cincinnati star turned in an awfully strong audition for a much more lucrative career in Saturday’s Senior Bowl, racking up 103 yards receiving and catching a 32-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to help the North race to a 31-13 victory over the South.
“All my hard work just kind of came into one game,” an exuberant Gilyard said. “I’m truly blessed. I worked my butt off and I played my butt off. I’ve been through so much in my career.
“This game sums up everything, because I’ve been through all the hard work, all the ups and all the downs, the peaks and the valleys. I’ve been through everything. I’ve been from the brown sticky stuff at the bottom of the barrel to the cream at the top of the coffee.”
In 2006, an academically ineligible Gilyard lost his scholarship and had to take jobs ranging from cutlery salesman to construction worker to pay his steep out-of-state tuition bills. He eventually won back his scholarship.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, meanwhile, had a shaky outing running a pro-style offense against a sturdy defense.
He fumbled twice and finished 8 of 12 passing for 50 yards in the showcase for senior NFL prospects. Tebow’s longest completion was 11 yards and he netted 4 yards on four rushes, but was never turned loose as a power runner as he often was with the Gators. He battled strep throat early but didn’t miss any practice time during a week when he was trying to prove to skeptical NFL teams and draft analysts that he could be a starting pro quarterback.
“I think I’m definitely open to improving my fundamentals,” Tebow said. “I think I definitely showed that by being here. If you just watched the way I played, you could see there is room for improvement and what I need to work on.”
One of the nation’s top all-purpose threats, Gilyard also set up a third-quarter touchdown with a 43-yard catch down the right sideline and had five receptions. Both that pass and the TD came from Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour.
Michigan defensive lineman Brandon Graham had two sacks and a forced fumble and was chosen the game’s Most Valuable Player. The South committed six turnovers.
“It shows that I’m going to go hard 100 percent of the time all day and whoever gets me is going to love me,” Graham said.
Gilyard returned two kicks for 52 yards and gained 24 on two punt returns. He was chosen offensive player of the game while Mississippi State’s Jamar Chaney earned defensive honors.
Tulane receiver Jeremy Williams had six catches for 82 yards, added a 27-yard run on an end around and was named the South’s most outstanding player. That honor went to Central Michigan’s LeFevour for the North. He completed half of his 10 passes for 97 yards and added a 1-yard touchdown run on a sneak, once again outdistancing the much more heralded Tebow.
LeFevour finished with more total touchdowns (150) than any other player in Football Bowl Subdivision, including Tebow (145).
Zac Robinson had the game’s best passing numbers, throwing for 176 yards and a touchdown before getting intercepted late in the game.
Tebow played 11 snaps in the first half, and the South was down two scores by the time he re-entered the game to loud applause late in the third.
Dexter McCluster fumbled two plays into his first drive of the half, and his second began at the South’s 1-yard line.
Tebow led the South to a couple of first downs before Koa Misi stripped the ball from him. He had another fumble on the next drive but lineman Jeff Byers fell on the ball.
The miscues didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the sport that has made him one of college sports’ biggest stars.
“It’s a game of football,” Tebow said. “You’re playing with a bunch of great players, a bunch of great coaches. I’m out here playing football. I love it.”
Gilyard’s teammate, Tony Pike, is considered the top-rated NFL prospect among the participating quarterbacks and he looked solid in a brief outing. He was 5 of 12 for 45 yards all in the first half. Gilyard caught two of those passes for 21 yards.
LeGarrette Blount had a 14-yard touchdown run for the North, while Lonyae Miller gained a game-high 44 yards on nine carries.
Alabama players accounted for all of the South’s points. Robinson hit tight end Colin Peek for a 19-yard touchdown and Leigh Tiffin booted field goals of 43 and 33 yards.